Assessing the Future Core of the San Antonio Spurs

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As the return of the NBA proves to be certain, the chances of the San Antonio Spurs climbing back into the playoffs and extending their 22-year playoff streak remains low. In this multi-part article, we will assess the future young core of the San Antonio Spurs, and their role in helping the team back to its winning ways. 

Part 1: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV

Guard: Dejounte Murray, 23

Of all the players listed in the article, Murray is perhaps the most established. Fresh off of a torn ACL and a lost 2018 season, the Spurs front office this past summer still handed Murray a four-year, $64 million fully guaranteed contract. Sealing his near future in the Alamo city and with the Spurs. Underlying his importance to the Spurs franchise.

Coming into this season, many expected a more polished and versatile player than merely the defensive specialist Murray was in 2017. Although a season average of 10.7 points suggests otherwise, a clear difference this season was his outside shooting ability. In his first two seasons as a pro, Dejounte only drained 18 triples at an inefficient rate of 27 percent. His mid-range game was not reliable either, as he only connected on those 31 percent of the time. Even though Murray this season was not a high volumeshooter from distance, his 38 percent from deep was a clear sign of improvement from his 27 percent in 2017. Now, you still have to take into perspective that he managed to take on average 1.5 more threes per game this season.

What came more of a surprise, though, was how Murray made a quite ridiculous 50 percent of his jumpers in the mid-range area. In future years, not only will making the defender respect his shot further expand Murray’s attacking arsenal and possibly unlock his driving game, but it will also provide the much-needed spacing and outside threat for the Spurs. 

Areas Murray Needs to Work On

Though Murray’s long-range development is encouraging, the 23 year-old still exploited a number of his weaknesses throughout the season. Surprisingly, the area in which Murray had his fair share of struggles was near the basket. As he finished only 57% (almost his mid-range percentage!) of his attempts from 0-5 feet. Assessing Murray’s length, his athleticism, as well as his dependency near the basket, this number is not too great. If strengthened, finishing at the hoop can become one of Murray’s best traits. Utilizing his build and quickness to provide a legitimate threat inside every single possession, and therefore creating more simply reads for himself.

Another area of concern that appeared this season was Dejounte’s unforced errors and turnovers. Considering Murray’s average playmaking ability and his 4 assists per game, two costly turnovers every game might prove to be too high if he wants to push his game to another level. If he can eliminate his careless mistakes as well as improving his vision and playmaking ability in the near future, Dejounte can turn out to be one of the best two-way all-around guards in the league.  

By being the youngest player to ever be selected to an All-NBA Defensive team, we knew Dejounte this past offseason was paid for his already elite defense. As well as betting on the fact that his potential on the opposite side of the ball will be unlocked. If Murray’s outside shooting proves to be sustainable, and if he is able to improve his finishing and ball skills–Spurs will be heading into a bright future led by its franchise point for years to come. 

Guard: Derrick White, 25

To be honest, ever since Derrick White’s 36 point outbreak against the Nuggets last postseason and his absolutely nasty poster on Paul Millsap , I was “anticipating” that to be the norm for much of this year. Instead, we rarely saw Derrick White play to that extent, as he struggled with his role as the 6th man. There were moments where White would take command of the second unit, yet there were stretches where it was as if he was not on the court at all.

That being said, White is still an elite defensive guard in the league (and one of the best at blocking shots), pestering whoever he matches up against every night. Mostly as a bench player, White still statistically roughly matched last season when he was a full-time starter. Except scoring a slight increase of points per game this season, and raising his season averages to double digits. 

Areas White Needs to Work On

Much like Murray, a summer worth of hoisting triples in the gym translated to in-game success. Draining 3s at a respectable 36 percent. However, there’s still room for improvement if White wants to be a reliable shooter on every possession. Not only can his percentage be better, but the lack of shot attempts from distance also makes us question whether that number will even remain the same as he pulls up more often. Shooting only 2.6 threes per game, many of which White throws up to avoid a shot clock violation, does not give us an accurate notion of how efficient Derrick can be with his shot. Also improving on his contested threes, and threes off the dribble will be immensely critical. Even more so as Dejounte Murray, for now, remains only a spot-up “threat” from deep.

Who knows, if White can prove to Pop that he is reliable behind the arc, Coach Pop might bring him back to the starting lineup. Creating perhaps the scariest defensive guard tandem in the league.

Oftentimes, Derrick White is not the most athletic player on the court, which in turn allows him to play ball with his vision, change of speed, and intelligence. Yet throughout the season, there were moments where White was unsure of his role and play. Heading into an important contract year, and hopefully, many years after that, confidence, aggressiveness, as well as some fixes along the way will no doubt mold White into a player every team wants to have. And a combo guard that can help the future Spurs win for a very long time. 

Guard/Forward: Lonnie Walker IV, 21

Spurs teams over the years typically are not known for their flair and flashy play. In fact, Spurs are often thought of as the most boring team in the league. Yet the second-year player out of Miami is a big play waiting to happen whenever he steps onto the court.

Standing at 6 foot 6 with incredible explosiveness and bounce, Lonnie Walker IV was perhaps the most unique player the Spurs have drafted in a while. Walker’s sophomore year resume falls in line with players of a similar experience: a handful of DNPs to start the season, and then slowly but surely finding his role on the team. The turning point for Walker, and perhaps the most exciting game of the season for the Spurs as a whole, was his breakout performance against the Rockets. Scoring a career-high 28 points, 19 of which came in the fourth. It was evident after that game that Coach Pop’s trust in Lonnie skyrocketed. As we saw the 21-year-old begin to take minutes away from the 3-point marksman Marco Belinelli. 

Talking about pure talent and ceiling, Lonnie Walker is, without a doubt, a distant first when comparing to his teammates. Yet how to make good use of his abilities will determine how far Walker can reach in his NBA career. As shown in his breakout fourth quarter against the Rockets, Walker possesses the star-like ability to take over a game inside the paint, as well as making big-time threes. All of which came with successfully guarding one of the greatest scorers in James Harden. Forcing him to shoot an abysmal 4 of 20 from the floor in the fourth quarter and overtimes combined. This kind of play by Walker, however, did not appear much for the rest of the season.

Areas Walker Needs to Work On

If there are two things that can push Walker to become a consistent weapon next season (or even this season), it is making his shots count while increasing his awareness on the defensive end.

Too often this season did we see Walker utilize his athleticism to blow by his defender, just to slightly miss an open layup or an open mid-range jumper. During G-league and summer league appearances, Walker’s mid-range and paint game was his bread and butter. This season, however, he only made 32 percent of his attempts between 3 feet and the three-point line. For a player that never struggles to create his own shots, these misses are most likely the result of adjusting to the NBA rhythm and speed. However, if this rate of shooting persists, it will be a big problem heading forward. 

Even though Lonnie Walker’s one on one defense is solid, if not above average at times, his instincts off the ball lack consistency. If there is one thing that makes Greg Popovich absolutely livid on the sidelines and then rushes onto the court to call a timeout, it’s a player’s lack of focus and awareness on the defensive end. Although Walker’s god-given athleticism allows him to jump into passing lanes as well as go up for big-time blocks, his defensive rotation and his anticipation of the opponent’s offensive schemes lack stability.

If Walker can stay with his man, forecast screens, and recognize cuts, he will be one step closer to being the future two-way star the Spurs hoped he would become when they drafted him 19th overall.

Follow me on Twitter @oscarpatton14

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